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Tsuyoshi Honjo: When Music and Racing Collide

If you’ve witnessed Tsuyoshi belt out a tune on his soprano saxophone, you’ve seen him race from note to note with incredible speed and dexterity. He brings the same work ethic, intensity, and control to racing motorcycles – at 140 miles per hour.

A multi-instrumentalist, CCM faculty member Tsuyoshi Honjo plays the saxophone, clarinet, flute, and guitar, which he began learning at the age of 13. Saxophone playing was a hobby he picked up as a 20-year-old student at Berklee College of Music. It didn’t take long to develop into a career. He says, “I really loved John Coltrane’s music, and I wanted to play a tenor saxophone so badly. I learned all the notes on a saxophone even before my first lesson, and my teacher was very impressed with it.”

When teaching music, he often relates music techniques to his student’s interests—in most cases, he’s using sports as examples. He takes the time to learn what kind of music they like and their favorite hobbies to get them fully engaged with learning the saxophone. Tsuyoshi says that this connection helps advanced students especially understand why the techniques work. For him, that’s motorcycling racing, his other passion!

How did your interest in motorcycling racing start?

Sports cars and racer replica motorcycles were very popular with my generation in Japan, where I grew up.  Many of my friends were into them, so it was natural to gravitate to motorsports—it was very natural for me. However, I could not explore that side of me until much later since I was very busy practicing, studying, and teaching music. Once I completed my doctorate in saxophone, I suddenly had extra time. I went to a motorcycle riding school, received my license, and bought a 1980’s BMW. I still remember the feeling of buying that motorcycle. It was like being a little kid again! Then I bought an Italian sportbike that may have been too much motorcycle to control back then. But funny enough, that fired up my desire to be able to control the beast. It led me to sign up for a racing track day, where you learn how to ride like racers. A year later, I went to the Penguin Racing School to get a CCS racing license.

Any similarities in how you prep for a performance or race?

Learning the race track has some similarities to learning music. Just like we need to go through pitches, rhythms, and articulations of a piece, I learn race tracks by analyzing each one: angle of pavements, where and how much I can open the throttle, where I need to apply the brake and release it, etc. I practice perfecting entrance speed, angle, exit trajectory, and throttle control, just like I practice each measure repeatedly with music.  Wearing a leather racing suit almost feels like wearing a tuxedo for a concert, and revving the engine high before starting a race feels like preparing for the first note in the concert.

How would you describe your teaching style?

My teaching style comes from my beloved graduate school, classical saxophone teacher Kenneth Radnofsky. He treated me like his own son in both good and bad ways; always telling me his likes and dislikes when it comes to music. But, he always believed in my potential as a saxophone player. I believe in my students’ potential and encourage them—making them feel at ease in their lessons.

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